Ever so often, I catch myself say something that feels like it’s taken out of a young-adult novel with teenage dramatis personae. You know exactly the type: where one of the central characters is a boy who wears hoodies and jeans, with headphones on at most, if not all times, where this clothing is emphasized, repeated as foreshadowing the character who becomes his love-interest and makes him take off his headphones and indulge in conversation – their meeting trapped in time, space, and the novel becoming about everything aside from the routine that interrupts the meeting of their minds. I catch myself having a sequence of thoughts when I’m dressed in similar attire (perhaps a consequence of associative memory), and think to myself, right after, that belongs in a book. A book filled with tropes, but my masterpiece, my Michelangelo.
I associate my foray into this genre with John Green, an author whose work amazes me for how riveting and unputdownable the novels end up being, but equally, after a friend pointed this out, for the sheer profoundness crafted into people who are wise beyond their years. My friend told me, teenagers don’t talk like that, referencing Green’s use of a cigarette as a metaphor in The Fault in Our Stars. I chuckled along in agreement and queried other nuggets of wisdom I had gleaned from these younger characters. For all my quips about seniority being immaterial to respect or knowledge, I dismissed them, till my reading journey got me along to a point where I realized the generalization, that all these characters be pooled into one single space within a Venn diagram marked with a circle teens was flawed. Their wisdoms, their quips stem out of their lived experience – and disassociating, taking a step back, those pieces seem to fit. Granted, this create a hero arc in their lives, but, it fits. Chapeau, my friend, what else can I say?
It’s in those moments, when I speak or text these sentences – sometimes compliments I’m passing on to people, or explanations of something I’ve said, oftentimes apologies, and even mundane observations, that I think, I need to write that book. I have that one sentence, maybe a handful, and here I am, dreaming of these long young adult novels that are as page-turning as I found Green’s work. You see the problem here, don’t you? I’ve identified myself as that character making these quips, and placing the onus on myself to write. It takes a couple of hours, but eventually, I come to the realization that at best, this belongs on a twitter thread, and dismiss them completely. No record, no memory. Like the first step of editing a poorly crafted tweet before the internet sees it, my lack of record means I have no recollection of the sentences I’ve waved off into the abyss.
I caught myself having one of these moments yesterday while exchanging texts back and forth with a friend. In the casual conversation about how much time felt like it had slowed down and days had morphed into each other (a sign of this pandemic for most), my friend said every day feels like Sunday. I seized my literary moment. With no hesitation, in real-time, I said, I’m caught in a sea of Wednesdays. I can recall, vividly, my pride at typing this masterpiece. In dissecting the novel in a Grade 7 Book Club or English Literature class, perhaps a teacher would say, Why did Mr Rao choose to use the word “sea”? To which the bright spark that lingered in greys, hood down, at the back of the class, would shoot back, because he felt like he was drowning. And so the English teacher would have found her star, and a new student-teacher relationship would foster the creation of a Dead Poet’s Society, bonded together by the one moment someone really understood what an author meant. Except, in this case, the author, me, didn’t use sea because he was drowning. I used the word sea deliberately, because I’m floating, one day to the next. More than that, I picked Wednesdays deliberately. An odd choice, as my friend suggested, but one I easily explained, below:
I don’t know. I think it’s the fact that it feels like the middle of the week, despite there being no fixed middle because it’s the closest you can get to a middle on the work week calendar. Or maybe it’s the memory of having good lunch in high school with friends. Or the long forgotten but never really gone memory of being yelled at for saying régle wrong in french class.
And for the Dead Poet’s Society that emerged, there would be the one kid that researched the author’s background, found this post, and got the actual meaning behind the tour de force that is a sea of Wednesdays. For an outsider, a sea of Wednesdays would make no sense. What does he even mean?, they’d ask, and when someone explained it, they’d say, then why on Earth couldn’t he just have said, “every day felt the same”, to which, literary flair, would be the only appropriate response.
So I had this moment, right, on the train yesterday, coming back from London, and I said to myself, that belongs in a book, and for the first time, having a record of that moment and the realization that followed, I can see now that at the very least, it’s given me enough content to fill a space on a blog that serves as a daily reminder of my place as a writer.
As I’ve decided to start recording each of these phrases I concoct, these literary-isms that occupy space in my heart as novels that are never written. The plan is to blog about them and what they meant when I said them originally, for anyone to adopt if they’d like, but more crucially, for me to remember what on Earth I actually meant, lest I think someday that a sea of Wednesdays was a number of shops called Wednesday’s, like Sainsbury’s.
This idea for this post originated on last evening’s call with my mother. While on Zoom, I became a little perturbed (she’d say aggressive) about her poor technology skills. It was really nothing major: one was poor technology etiquette (not muting one call while taking another), and the other was poor effort (claiming to not find something that was easy to search for with ctrl+F). Neither of these so-called “misdemeanors” deserved the disproportionate wrath I unleashed. I chided her for her poor technology skills, and told her she had to up her game if she wanted to be able to adapt to a changing world. She took it on the chin with a smile, but I felt guilty enough about what I said to write her an apology WhatsApp message. In the 5 minutes that passed between ending our Zoom call & writing her that text, my mind cast itself to the shores of the distant future.
Thus began the montage of a fear that’s been bubbling underneath the surface for a very long time. Me, much older, in the future, struggling to get onto a spaceship that will get me home. Me, much older, not knowing how to access the mainframe cloud computer that houses all my memories. Me, forgetting.
My maternal grandfather and my own father are two of the most flexible people I know. Although rigid with planning and organizing in advance, once things are in motion, they are the least likely to resist to occurrences along the way. Contrast this with my own style, being in a constant state of flux between organizing & being chill about life. Their flexibility gives them a unique leg-up in this fast-paced technology driven world. While they are both creatures of habit, they find a way to use new tools as they are made available for them. I have no doubt the two would have thrived in the 1970’s. Actually, there’s evidence for this. My maternal grandfather did thrive – with his cameras. My dad would have too, I’m certain. I’ve seen this play out since I’ve been a young child. Here are my top two illustrations.
The Computer: Personal computers gathered steam in the late 70’s, early 80’s, and my grandfather, an early adopter made sure he had one at home. My mom did some work on that PC, while my chikkamma learned how to type properly on it – it’s why she’s got one of the highest words-per-minute in our family. Of course, this is also down to the lifestyle they led, but my grandfather took his knowledge of these computers and ensured he was never left behind. I saw him move to laptops with relative ease, moving these gargantuan database files he had gathered over time with him – and developing the tools that he needed to ensure that the database could sustain itself on the latest technology. He knows the most code of us all, and learns new coding languages if they fit his project requirements. With computers, he’s a real geek, and he’s wholly responsible for my computer literacy. His partner-in-crime is my father, who ensured that from a young age, I was exposed to the computer. I’ve interacted with every Windows OS that’s come out since I was born – because I played computer games and watched CD’s on our Windows 98 and 2000 computers, and that is due, in large part, to my dad’s desire to stay up-to-date. My dad used to present regularly at GITEX, so when the time was right, he used to ensure we upgraded, as a family, to the current systems in use – we moved to a family laptop, and on my mum and Uncle’s cajoling, I ended up with a PC of my own in Grade 4. His work has seen him move across the various versions of Microsoft Office & cloud computing with ease – and I used him as a guide while learning how to make the best use of OneDrive. He also has – and uses a tablet with much more skill than I can.
The Mobile Phone: Similar story. Without a fuss, I saw both these characters move from User Interface to User Interface as their needs demanded it. My grandfather of course had to learn how to interact with the phone from scratch, but he moved to a touchscreen smartphone around the same time we all did. My dad, however, is the star here. He moved from the old brick Nokias to the Communicator range to the Blackberry to the iPhone – where he’s planted himself currently. As a working professional, this makes perfect sense: the Android OS was never intended to be an office-use driver.
So basically, I look back at the 23 years I’ve been in this world, and I can see both my maternal grandfather and my dad transitioning seamlessly across platforms and across devices – and last evening, I’ve lost my patience with my mother for not doing so. Of course, this is putting it crudely. My mom is a star with technology in her own right, and both my dad and my Tata have asked me several questions about the latest technology – which I’ve either straight-up lied about with unabashed confidence (to then be told I was wrong), or assisted with my limited knowledge in.
But those five minutes were moments of serious reflection.
I’m not as flexible as either of these generations before me. In fact, I struggle more than most with technology changes as they happen. Learning about how to interact with new user interfaces takes me some time. I’m good with hardware switches and hardware generally, but software is definitely a bit of an enemy. Again – this is putting it crudely, but you get my point.
You see, I’m a little old-school. If I was given a chance, I’d go back to the non touch-screen phones. I’d add most of the smartphone features, but I would want a physical keyboard. I used to love Blackberry’s. Things just felt easier to do on them – typing felt so much more natural. Even with touchscreens, I never have been able to understand how to use the swiping keyboards – where you can type just by swiping? I much rather prefer typing out each letter that I need to – to see the words construct themselves, letter-by-letter. I loved the Windows phone – not because of anything except the fact that it looked like something familiar: the OS on my PC. Till this year, I almost exclusively used Android phones. Transitioning into the Apple ecosystem? It’s been hard work. I’m still not sure if I’m extracting the most out of my iPhone, and frequently, I speak to a friend of mine who made the same transition alongside me to sort out my doubts.
I’m skeptical about moving to macOS. I’m skeptical also about how I’ll interact with tablet devices like the iPad. I’m not sure if they’re worth their cost, or whether I’ll be able to use them as nicely and comfortably as I use my current set up. I took a good eight months of going back between Chrome and Edge before settling on using Edge for the foreseeable future to browse the interwebs.
I am slow, relative to the industry.
A lot of this is fear. Of what, I’m uncertain. But, given my outburst with my mother, I think I’m scared of becoming a technological dinosaur. The world moves very quickly, and to be able to exist in the world of the future, it feels like I will have to, at the very least, accept some of the changes and innovations that come with it.
I don’t think I can keep up. It takes a lot of capital to keep up – and just existing takes enough capital from us all. I don’t think I want to keep up either. My goal is a de minimis, so to speak. I just don’t want to be a relic of a bygone era when there’s something more efficient that is accessible to me for my use. I don’t mind being somebody who prefers old technology. Retro tech is very cool. I like it. But, I can see myself becoming someone who struggles with new technology and adaptation.
That scares me.
My dad’s been telling me I should move to a Mac soon. He was also one of the first people to ask me to use secure cloud services to save files, and to scan everything important just to ensure I never lose an accessible version of it due to natural circumstances. I usually just dismiss him. Most of the time it’s because of the investment these transitions take, both financially and in terms of time – but, perhaps, I should give him more of a ear. Maybe he spotted my rigidity at a young age, and this was his way of nudging me toward a path of more flexibility.
It’s now time I listen. Hopefully I’ll become more open-minded, empathetic, and comfortable, both with elder people like my mother struggling with current technology (she’s going to grill me for calling her elder), and me using new, modern technology.
Today’s been an intriguing day. Having slept for 8 hours, I woke up, completed some reviews of submissions I was reading – and got to my reading lists once more. We’re at Week 4 now. Week Five Blues are close-by, it appears. As of yesterday, we’ve learned that we’re going to be on National Lockdown from Thursday. However, this seems to be a rather soft lockdown – with Universities and Retail that’s Essential continuing to be open. Restaurants are going to remain open for takeaways. The decentralized nature of decision-making at Cambridge means we’re awaiting instructions from College and the Faculty of Law on the implications of the lockdown on decisions that had been communicated to us earlier in the year – particularly on in-person teaching. For me, as an off-site student, something that I’m waiting to understand is if I will still be able to visit St Edmund’s – and to what extent I can interact with my College.
I knew this was likely before I signed up to study this year, so I felt adequately prepared for this, and I am still feeling that way. I will continue to study and make the most of what this place has to offer. If I feel like it gets to me though, I will reach out for any help I need.
I had class in the afternoon, followed by a Graduate Workshop. Where we have classes that have more than 13 students signed up to study a given subject on the LLM, we get workshops that accommodate only 13 people twice a semester. That’s really helpful, and is the small-group teaching that allows for broader discussions about subjects we’re clearly passionate about. Today’s agenda: common spaces, something I adore with every fibre of my being.
Having received a notification about a book that I had to return, in the evening I cycled to Sidgwick, returned the book to the Faculty, cycled to College, and came home. Now I’ve spent an hour watching YouTube videos – so I’m going to spend the rest of the evening preparing for my 9AM tomorrow.
Thursday means no interactive sessions, but also marks the beginning of a long-weekend filled with sport, reading, socializing, and sleep.
Truth be told most of my morning passed by in writing a couple of things, after which I went and played tennis. I had a horrid game, losing the only set we played 0:6, and winning a handful of points from unforced errors my friend made. Slowly I’m hoping to gain back some confidence, particularly on my backhand, where I seem to have lost any semblance of technique. I’m a left-handed player with a two-handed backhand (occassionally one, for the flair). The technique for both, as it was taught to me, is quite different, particularly in terms of how far my left foot crosses over to generate power. Owing to a lack of practice, I don’t seem to be able to gauge the distance to the ball on my backhand side, and then I get confused between wanting to play two-handed or one-handed, as a result of which my left foot is completely out of position. Hopefully I can work on that next week. It was good fun though, particularly because we played just after it rained, and got to experience changeable weather conditions at its finest.
The evening brought with it a wonderfully enlightening conversation with a Geographer whose works I’ve admired for a long time. It feels very nice to have this access to information, and hopefully I can do something in the short and long-run that improves that access, making it available to more people. For a start though, I’ve discovered that writing good e-mails really work. In a single conversation, I learned about the bounds of a subject and how to toe time with rigour, and he really spent time answering my queries about his work, his approach to the subaltern and what inspired him to write what he wrote – and what he currently researches. He listened to my ideas patiently, asking questions of me grounded in his own work, and I left the conversation with more to think about, which is always comforting.
Last night I had a wonderful discovery – where I found out you can use a laptop as a second-screen, and Windows 10 has built-in a wonderful projection feature. Now we’ve got that going in the room, so the eyes are less strained, and I have no excuses not to be reading and taking notes simultaneously. The pleasure of learning new technology skills is truly a kick unlike many others. Genuinely, I felt like I was hackerman.
While I tell you about how I’ve scheduled-in time for sleep, it’s equally important that I acknowledge that sometimes all schedules go for a toss. That tends to happen when you realize that there’s something you haven’t penciled in that you have left to do, or that you want to do. Yesterday after my lecture, I realized I hadn’t met my hostel neighbour from college for a week or so. I haven’t met some of my other newfound friends here for a similar period, but we’re catching up on the weekend – which I’m happy about. With this guy though, it’s slightly different. We’ve known each other for five years, but not just known. We were in the same class and spent final year sitting next to each other there, and as a result of being hostel neighbours, we bumped into each other in the washroom atleast once every day, in addition to meeting once daily usually late in the evening just as he was about to go to sleep – when my days in college used to start.
So it was weird realizing that we hadn’t met, and that it hadn’t occurred to either of us that such a long time had passed between meeting each other. Clearing out what we had for the evening, we had dinner, caught up – and owing to the fact that we have no overlapping subjects with each other, tried to gauge what the others’ challenges were. We went for a walk, set-up some IT infrastructure, got some shopping done – and when I returned home, I realized I don’t feel homesick because I often carry pieces of home with me wherever I go. In small ways, for example I’ve had the same alarm clock for the past 12 years of my life, and I’ve carried that everyone.
In Cambridge it appears as though that has happened in a large way: both of us seem to have carried people.
Like most other Indian kids born around the late 1990’s and 2000, my love affair with hockey begins at the meeting point of Chak De India!, a coach, and my friends. In late-2006 and early-2007, I was cricket-mad. I’d been following cricket religiously for close to 5 years by that point, and playing it seriously, with leather-ball coaching for half a year. The net sessions were grueling but extremely enjoyable. I’d play with friends at school and loved it, and I’d play at a friend’s house, in his room, for hours on-end. More about that is here. However, I was never one to shy away from new sports. My parents encouraged it, my school encouraged it even more. So it was that turf was laid out in school [with rubber], a hockey coach was brought in, alongwith 25-30 fluorescent yellow sticks, and we began to be trained in this crazy sport.
It was insane.
We had Games periods, and all of our Games periods, as a collective Grade 4 class, ended up going in training with Stallone sir. I found his name pretty amusing at the time, because he reminded me of Sylvester Stallone and I was just off a Rocky phase, but there he was, teaching us the absolute fundamentals. How to pass a ball along the ground, how to trap a ball, and how to push the ball into the net. As one of the only left-handed people in class trying to play the sport, he had a unique challenge with me, and I remember him vividly trying to explain me to how to turn my body around so I ended up behind the ball on the correct [right-handed] side to trap it more accurately. I never ended up successfully doing it, and my passing was pretty woeful because I had no power at all in my right-hand, but he persevered with me. In our Games periods, he’d split us up into mixed teams and make us all play these mini matches, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
We slowly began to develop individually and collectively. We learned the rules and regulations: not to use the back of the stick, to ensure the ball didn’t hit our feet, and to try our hardest not to commit fouls by aggresively tackling and making people fall by hitting them with the stick. The sticks at school were pretty small, so they were very fun to play with, and he taught us to take more powerful shots, swinging hard at the ball. While everyone learned that skill right-handed, the first thing he taught me was the reverse-hit, because that came to me more naturally. So it was that the left-hander in me felt consoled and tended to, and learned there was a sport that was right-hand dominant that reserved a special kind of shot for us, and a nice little cross-pass technique too. Stallone sir was really good at coaching and motivating kids – and I think we were all so enthused by this new sport that we took to his coaching gleefully.
I ended up dividing my time between hockey and cricket. Cricket was still the more serious sport at home and at school, with school team trainings, weekend net sessions and practices, and games with friends, but hockey ended up becoming the sport that brought out more joy. My friends and I started to play within enclosed air-conditioned spaces in the ground floor of our apartment complex. They were all physically more fit than I was, and I remember being so impressed at how they ran with the ball, and the ball just seemed to go with them as they sprinted everywhere. On the other hand I’d really struggle with it: I’d either take a first touch too hard and lose control of the ball altogether because I couldn’t keep up, or I’d end up in a slow jog and someone would tackle me.
Hockey was super fun at school because Stallone sir mixed the boys and the girls together. It was one of those sports we all learned together, so at the start, I don’t think he saw any reason to split us off. As a result, playing together provided the kind of interaction for us we had never had before. The girls used to play basketball (I hardly remember any guys playing basketball), and the boys used to play football and cricket. Everyone did athletics and swimming when required, but hockey was the first sport that brought us all together in Games period, and not just summer camp. It broke down a lot of the cootie barriers we had.
Then Chak De India! was released. Damn, what a movie. There are parts of it I now find strange, and disagree with, but it was remarkable to me that there was this hockey, and this sports accomplishment in my home country I had no clue about. The tactics they showed in the movie, the physicality of the sport, it all appealed to me and I knew I was in love with it immediately. I spent a week convincing my mother I needed a stick to play with – using the convenient excuse that I was left-handed and so would benefit from a different type of stick (all a bahana – I’m sure she saw straight through it), but we went to Lulu and we bought a 60 Dhs. Karson hockey stick, which I carried with me to school everyday to play with.
Then came the tournament. We were invited to Cambridge International School in Abu Dhabi for a 7-a-side mixed indoor tournament, and we were so excited, I think Stallone sir basically took half our class to the tournament. I look at the photos we have, I’m so glad for facebook, and I can see all of my close school friends from that time in the photographs. We all bought shin-pads to play with, and everyone had their own sticks by this time. It was an absolute blast. I don’t think we did well at all – in fact, I can remember only one goal from the entire tournament (that my friend scored), but we enjoyed ourselves so much! By this time, hockey-wise, Stallone sir really was encouraging us to have fun. Outside of game-time, when I remember him being quite strict, he was teaching us how to scoop, how to juggle the ball (which one of the Keegans picked up very well).
My uncle, who really enjoyed pampering me – asked me what I wanted for his last birthday we’d spend together in Dubai. I wanted a Slazenger hockey stick. So we drove down to GoSport, in Dubai Festival City, on a weekday evening, and went through everything on offer in the shop, and picked up a fibreglass Slazenger hockey stick. I used that for the rest of the year, making sure I didn’t play with it indoor, only when I was on a field – out of worry that it’d be scratched.
And then I relocated to India. When I first visited Indus International School, where I was set to enroll, I saw how many sports facilities they had, and I was very intrigued by the fact that they didn’t have junior hockey. As an international school with boarding facilities and such a vast expanse of land, it felt easy to demarcate one area for junior hockey-playing. Seniors apparently played, but not very seriously. When I asked the admissions officer about this, she seriously remarked to me that I could make a reasonable request that junior hockey be offered at school. You see, there’s no real difference between junior hockey and senior hockey except field dimensions and maybe more rigorous coaching because we’re trying to learn the sport. At that time of course, I had no idea, and I was grateful that somebody might listen to what I had to say.
So it was that in July 2008 (I still have the e-mail), a month after I relocated, I wrote up a statement of purpose and sent it into the admissions office. This was my introductory paragraph:
Hockey is a very popular sport and is the national sport of India. I like hockey a lot and am looking to achieve a lot in it. I want to represent Indus International School in Inter-School tournaments and after I become big want to play international hockey for India. It challenges all players mentally as well as physically. e.g.- If you are in the opponent’s ‘D’ and your player is covered by your opponent, you need to think to either pass to him or shoot the ball from whatever distance you’re in from the goal. That’s how it challenges the players mentally.
I look back now amused, but at that time, I was very impressed. So impressed, that I used Comic Sans MS:
My parents were quite impressed with how serious I was about this, and most of the school was too. I remember meeting the CEO of the School as well as my Principal, which at my young age felt rather cool. My friends back in Dubai gave me a fair amount of encouragement – especially my best friend, who kept updating me with how Stallone sir had really taken hockey at school to new heights, with proper teams practicing and playing regularly. I can’t quite tell how much of a role my SOP had with things, but I got approval and stayed back every Tuesday to play hockey at school.
In my complex, my tennis coach, who was custodian of the colony (as President of the Welfare Association), and someone I called Uncle because he was my mother’s friend – doubled up as a hockey companion. I dribbled around against him in front of his house a couple of times, with both of us deciding not to play there any more because of the un-evenness of the surface. We moved to the children’s park once, but then I think my enthusiasm faded slightly, especially with opportunities coming up to play in school.
It was just me in Grade 6, but Bhowmik sir at school really made time for me every single Tuesday. He spent time with me largely on my fitness and stamina, and in the cricket nets, set up dribbling exercises for me. We worked on my scoop shot even more. As exams rolled around, I stopped staying back on Tuesdays, but Bhowmik sir reeled me back in. I ended up playing a few cricket games for school in the U-10 category (because I had a year on me at the time), but hockey was really what kept me going in Grade 6 as I adjusted to this new school.
Grade 7 rolled around, and a couple of new people joined school. One from South Africa, and one from Germany. A few other people from our class joined in with us – because they had played hockey before as well. A senior hockey coach joined as well, and suddenly from one, we became quite a few of us who cared about the sport. The footballers joined in with us too – and we began to play during sports sessions where we were free to pick a sport (I played badminton in the other period). It was then that it became apparent to me how much physical fitness I still lacked, so I focused on doing some basic things as best as I could, but I was not really much of a match for the footballers – who could generate a ton of power in their legs to support some very hard hits. We once played a game of regular hockey players against the footballers and lost some 0:5 in school, and I remember feeling rather humiliated. I continued to stay back on Tuesdays, and worked with Bhowmik sir and the hockey coach (whose name I cannot recall at all unfortunately) – which led to a rather sudden inclusion in the Under-17 Hockey Team to play a Rotary tournament.
This was a massive highlight – really. I wrote an e-mail to my dad when it happened, asking for hockey shin-guards (because my old ones were not good enough for outdoor tournaments) with ankle support, and hockey stockings – and on his next trip to India, I had a pair of white colour Adidas shin-guards I was very happy with. I just looked through our chats, and I don’t know why I got frustrated with him when he asked me very reasonable questions about the shin-guards. He just asked for specifics: what size, what colour, where to buy them, and my responses reek of an irritation I can’t quite fathom. Sorry for that, Appa.
One of my friends in Grade 7 gifted me a new blue Rakshak hockey stick – which held a lot of sentimental value, because as an Indian brand, it reminded me of the Vijayanti stick in Chak De India!, and also was a stick the Indian hockey team used. I took that and the Slazenger to the tournament, where I came on as a second-half substitute in two group-stage matches, and confuddled my rather-senior, big, teammates by playing reverse-stick half the time. They yelled at me, I remember, which scared me because I was 4’8 or something at the time, puny, and these were 5’9-6’2 monsters. As a day scholar, I wasn’t close to any seniors – the boarders appeared to develop a bond, so I remember spending the bus ride back to school with the German 7th Grader who was also included on the team to his surprise.
The rest of the year was pretty uneventful. I played hockey with two or three people in Sports Hour: one v. two. When I moved to Inventure Academy, I tried asking around about hockey – and the school’s CEO had played and was interested, but my own interest seemed to be dipping. I stopped playing hockey altogether, switching over to basketball and tennis more seriously, developing those to a good, social level. Hockey became the sport I used to let out frustration from time-to-time, going onto the terrace of our house with a stick and a ball and whacking it against the wall. Truly though, I must’ve done this 4 times in the remaining 5 years I spent in Bangalore.
My love for hockey didn’t ever die though. I watched highlights of several matches, and watched a lot of the FIH games that happened if they coincided with dinner. I was really happy when the Hockey India League was founded, following those games with a sadness that there was no South Indian team. My sadness was underscored by the fact that Karnataka, and Coorg especially, was the cradle of Indian hockey – with legends like Len Aiyappa and M.P. Ganesh hailing from the region.
Having not played at high school, nor at undergraduate University, when I applied abroad, on 20 September 2019, I made this declaration that I’d play hockey wherever I went next. Cambridge has a lovely hockey tradition, and through Fresher’s Fair, I was able to sign-up and although St Edmund’s didn’t have a team, able to find two mixed college teams to play with.
I got myself the equipment, including a mouth-guard for the first time in my life (my canines are so grateful), and turned up to play for Selwyn/Trinity Hall on the weekend. To my teammates, during practice, I tried making it apparent to them that I had not played for ages, and I had last played on mud, not on turf. I don’t think I prepared them enough for how much I really needed their help to improve. Initially they stuck me up-top, which I now regret, because within 10 minutes I was so tired of making runs that I just dropped back and played defence the rest of the game, hardly moving out of my own D. It was 7-a-side half-pitch, and for the life of me I can’t imagine what playing full games will look like.
I made a bunch of mistakes, slipped up a couple of times and fell onto the turf, brazing my knee, we lost 1:7, but I was playing hockey again – after ten years. I was beaming when I came home. This year is probably going to be a long year in terms of improving in hockey, and I’m going to try to play in the lower College leagues to get up to Selwyn’s level if I can, something more relaxed to improve my skills first – but I was so very happy. My parents saw it, as did a couple of friends, and truly, I am so grateful to them both for supporting my desire to play the sport the first time by buying me the gear, and now, again, by buying bits of gear.
It’s crazy to think how many people help you to get here. People like Stallone sir who first taught me how to pick up the stick, to Bhowmik sir, who really had no obligation to stay back with me and play hockey with me for two years – to people I had never met in my life who answered my queries about Cambridge hockey over e-mail very politely and were okay with me joining in their weekend game having not played for so long.
One day I hope to hit a drag flick again and have enough confidence to play the entire game right-handed. That is likely to take a very long time.
No lectures today, and so ample time to relax and unwind one would think. That is only partly true. The absence of interactive sessions does create a void in one’s life: a 2-hour window (and the 30 minutes prior and 30 minutes after) that is to be filled with an activity of one’s choosing. Yet a morning glance at the Outlook Calendar, my OneNote, and Moodle – with next week’s reading list allays any misconceptions I have. The 2-hours are now filled with more joyous reading, but also a less quick pace of life.
That allowed for random tid-bits, a bit of piano practice, some phone calls to family, some YouTube scrolling, figuring out how to manage relaxation reading alongside University work, and a quick trip to Decathlon. Why? To pick up a mouth-guard, among other things to play Field Hockey. I do have a long essay planned about the sport later on in the week, but today was about ensuring I have the gear with which to play and partake in the game with as little fear as is possible.
I was able to take a nice walk along the river in the evening. Although we consistently experience changeable weather conditions here, the sun was shining bright, which meant rowing teams were out practicing. The crowded river, with the shutters of every boathouse open provided the perfect background for a conversation about Jurisprudence classes from the last week with a fellow batchmate, whose undergraduate education is so different from my own.
My Jurisprudence lectures at the undergraduate level never asked of me to engage with the core texts – nor did they reward or encourage that engagement. Although I read one text, I didn’t have the curiousity while studying my course to read through any of the other core texts or primary material we were critiquing. Over the course of my five years, I spent only my final two semesters reading some more core literature, but never for academic reasons. On the contrary, the batchmate I was speaking to spent five years reading just the core texts per paper. So he’s already read through the stuff here, and is just gaining different perspective.
I don’t blame the system for me not reading the core texts, and I think I could have if I wanted to. My curiousity at that time was directed elsewhere, so I’m quite glad it’s being directed here now. Jurisprudence is often described as the theory or philosophy of Law, and it seems to lay down formal logic that’s applicable to the field; with different authors suggesting different systems of logic that may apply. It’s a ton of fun, really.
That’s where most of the night is going as well – and trust me, I’m a happy camper.
Today was my first day of lectures. And yes – I’m finally right with it this time, it’s the first week of Michaelmas!
I got up rather early this morning, having had a late night. All of this was self-inflicted because as with other LLMs, we’ve all been very confused about when which interactive session is taking place, and I thought I had one class tomorrow that was today. That + an e-mail meant lots of reading this morning to catch up and be ready for the session. I was grateful to be able to finish in the knick of time, allowing me to catch-up with my best friend before heading to my first interactive session.
I say heading, but my first one of the week was online – so the only preparation I had to do was just check up my audio and clean-up the background a little. I should explain a little more about interactive sessions. Traditionally on the LLM program, teaching happens through a lecture in-person, per subject, each week. We study 4 modules, and so, it follows that you attend 4 lectures a week. Owing to COVID, the faculty has had to adapt, and thus, to ensure we get the benefit of some interaction with faculty, each subject now has a pre-recorded lecture component, and a live interactive component per week. The live component can happen either online, or in-person – depending on the interactive principles the Faculty of Law has laid out. It’s a rather well thought out solution that seems to be working okay for the time being. I’m grateful for how much they’ve communicated to us as they’ve made decisions. There’s a low level of consultation and no consultative process – as this was decided before we came to the University, but it’s been communicated in a timely way, which prepares us per week. As a consequence, to prepare for these interactive sessions, you need to do reading and watch the lectures for them. Then you can go in saying you’ve done the work – but you’ll always leave the interactive session realizing you missed something. At least, I’m prepared to: I’m prepared to leave the session learning more – and finding out fresh perspective my eyes may not have captured.
Today’s were lovely. Global Governance took place online, and the convening lecturer broke the ice quite nicely, allowing for introductions and commenting on our experiences before jumping into asking us questions and moderating a fruitful discussion about the week’s readings. That ended and I immediately had to rush off to the Faculty, about 2 miles away, to reach my Jurisprudence class on time. I say rush off, by which I mean rush down the stairs so I could cycle as slowly as I desired to reach there. I cycle rather slowly, just to be as careful as possible here. Today was the first time I got to enter the Lecture Theatre at the Faculty, and it’s so stunning. It’s just a nice pit-style ampitheater, with the lecturer at the bottom – but with social-distancing and a small crowd spanning the room, it was a geometrical sight to behold. While the Faculty’s building was only constructed in the 1990’s, it’s still incredible to think about the kind of people who have studied – and taught here.
A quick coffee meeting with my batchmates later, I headed back home, spoke to my parents while cooking dinner, and now I’m on my way to do more reading. I have a 9AM online interactive session tomorrow – one I’m really looking forward to, but there’s a 93-page document I have to get through before that. Should be a lovely night and early morning.
Today was the most wholesome food day I have had since I have come to the UK. Although I’ve been the recipient of various care packages containing food, and home-cooked food at that (which I am incredibly grateful for), I can’t help but explain to you how much I have missed cooking. For five out of the six months since this pandemic began to be considered seriously, I was alone at home in Bangalore cooking for myself. In my last month in India, I cooked only once. My chikkamma did all the cooking, and I just did all the eating. During lockdown days, the kitchen became a happy place. For a lot of people, the pandemic was the chance to develop a skill, like cooking. My mother taught me the fundamentals of cooking earlier, so the pandemic was the chance to build upon those fundamentals. Honestly, living alone, it was also an opportunity to experiment. To dream of things and then eat them by learning how to make them (like chili), or try out how much my stomach could take before it reovolted (peanut milk – which along with other things has made me convert to veganism pretty much).
This morning, my housemate and I went grocery shopping. We spent two hours there, and then cycled home with a lot of groceries. Our original plan was to make idli-sambhar and share it with everyone in the house – the family hosting us too, but owing to a lack of batter availability in Cambridge and a lack of planning to soak things to make batter, we switched over to making chole with chappatis. What a brilliant, inspired decision that turned out to be. We spent an hour in the kitchen together talking about our own kitchens at home, and I kneaded the chappatis and made a bunch of them while he made the channa. I have atta now so I can make as many round rotis as my stomach pleases. I feel whole, just like the wheat in the atta. We dined like kings with orange juice on the side – and had waffles with Nutella for dessert.
I spoke to family after that and then headed out to meet some Indians from the postgraduate offer-holder group at Fitzbillies, which celebrated its centenary last week. I had the Chelsea Bun, which a friend described as being a cuckoo version of the Cinnabon. Truly though, it was exactly like the Cinnabon with raisins and a lot of sticky toffee. Very sweet and yum.
A cycle ride later and I returned home to gobi, chole and the realization that tomorrow is the start of interactive sessions, which means a night of reading to ensure I’m actually able to follow what happens.
All of this while remembering somewhere in the middle that the Cambridge Majlis was hosting a debate abou the Partition of India that I had to attend because of how politically charged it was, and realizing that there were so many fresher’s events and first-week meetings happening tonight at the same time that I’m definitely not going to be able to actually attend all the events from all the mailing lists I’ve signed up to. Need to pick and choose – oh, what I would do for more time here in this place.
Truly, playing a sport after a couple of years in front of a crowd that has played competitively, regularly for the past few years is a humbling experience.
This morning I attended the Cambridge University Badminton Club (CuBaC) trials. I already signed up for the St. Edmund’s Badminton Society, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the University team, but here’s the thing. University Sports Club Members get this amazing Cambridge Blue Fleece Jacket that I really want. I’m just joking, really. I went to trials because it was a free badminton hour, an opportunity to meet new people, and to force myself to get a badminton racquet. It was a great chance also to see the University Sports Center without feeling like a stranger.
And so it was that I woke up early and cycled to Decathlon at Grafton, bought myself a racquet, and then wore thermal pants under a sports kit and two jackets to cycle the 2 miles to the Sports Center. My body has genuinely just forgotten I am in a cold place. I felt nothing while cycling, and then I got off the cycle and felt my thighs warm up like it was nobody’s business. I was sweating inside and had to get the jackets off pretty rapidly.
Sports over here is organized at multiple levels: there’s the University-grade, the College-grade, and the Social. The University-grade is when you’re bloody good at a sport, and your main objective is to beat Oxford – apart from developing as a sportsperson and doing well at BUCS. You do training at a rigorous level a couple of times a week, in addition to lots of fitness sessions to develop muscle, etc. Depending on the sport, it is not unusual to have a diet regime and things laid out for you. The College-grade is when you play intercollegiate Cuppers. You play with people at your College against other Colleges, and you basically train maybe once or twice a week. Depending on your College, you’re either trying to have fun, beat other colleges, or do both – and that dictates a lot of the environment around the sport at the College-grade. Then there’s the Social-level, where you just play outside of these affiliations for kicks.
I do not think (in my wildest dreams) that I am capable of playing anything at University-grade at the moment. At best, I’m at College-grade in some sports (perhaps badminton & basketball, but not much else). The rest, I shall play socially, or to learn – for example, field hockey is something I’ve wanted to get back into for ages, and there’s finally the opportunity and the facility to do that. There’s also Boat Club to teach me rowing, which I’m super keen about trying.
It’s all very nice. All of this also involved a lengthy discussion with my parents trying to understand whether I’d actually be able to do what I wanted to along with my studying, and more importantly, whether I should. Particularly with contact sports. I’ve gained weight during the lockdown and I’m somebody who does better at sports rather than workout regimes and runs (even though I have been running consistently), so I’m hoping to use them as a vehicle to meet more people and get fit.
Badminton trials were insane fun though. I lost all my games, but I met a bunch of undergraduate freshers (17 year olds) fresh out of school who gawped at me when I told them I was a graduate student. It’s very weird to be considered old when you’re one of the youngest in your batch.
That was the most exciting event today, apart from fun events I did in the afternoon online, and of course, more studying.
I woke up this morning and had a lovely, open and frank discussion with members of my school management about the alumni association that we are looking to set up. One of my batchmates actually said things best when we were on call when he explained that we didn’t understand the value of an alumni association till we grew old enough to recognize how easy things become when you have an established network in place to assist you with queries. More critically, we’ve reached an age where we’ve all come to realize how fortunate we were and how much we can use the alumni association to mobilize resources to help other people, and that’s something we’re eager to do. Hoepfully things go smoothly here on out because we’re slightly enthusiastic at the moment – and we need to capitalize on that.
Then I met up with a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law to understand how his start of term has been compared to my own, but honestly – just to hang. This place provides such good avenues to speak to people about the ideas they’re exploring, and it’s a useful way to remind yourself how littler you’re reading (even though the reading lists make you feel like you’re doing a lot). It’s helpful to know that there’s so much out there that is worthy of human exploration, and so many people capitalizing on it. Genuinely, I believe that moves humanity forward in a lot of ways. I also activated my subscription to Pret A Manger, which gives me 5 free drinks of my choice a day for the first month, which is unbelievable. This month will be filled with a lot of oat-milk hot chocolate. Yum.
In the evening I went to the Eagle Pub, right across from Corpus Christi, where Watson & Crick regularly hung out. The entire place had a lot history inside, with photos of rowing teams adorning the walls and dim lighting that gave it a very old feeling.
I returned home to get cracking on my reading. Interactive sessions begin next week by which time I’m expected to have finished the reading and watched the initial lecture for the classes I’m taking: a fair amount of work given that I need to really assimilate what I’ve read and not merely memorize it to reproduce in an exam. Some gobi I made in the evening really helped that process along. I can’t believe it’s Friday already – and the weekend when I wake up.
I’m laughing at myself because I discovered this afternoon that this was considered Week 0 and not Week 1 of Michaelmas Term. The late discovery has meant renaming each of my posts from this past week, and facing the truth that no matter how many vlogs I watch, and how many bits of information I read about Cambridge and its quirks, I will be underprepared for the experience. This amusing fact kept me going throughout the day – and what a day it has been.
After completing some clerical work with the bank to update some documents, I made my way to the Sidgwick Site to see the Faculty of Law and the Squire Law Library. Last evening I had a conversation with someone who suggested I spend some time there in the morning, which led to a quick reshuffling of plans and booking a slot at the Squire. Owing to COVID, they aren’t operating at full capacity so booking a seat in advance is necessary, but there are no restrictions on the amount of time you can spend there in either the morning slot or the evening slot.
The building is an architectural marvel. Look up the David Williams Building and you will see what I mean. It’s at a right angle, but has a curved glass facade that allows just the right amount of sunlight to creep in and assist people using the library facilities. The lecture theatres are absolutely massive – I can only imagine what being there in a regular term must feel like, it must be swarming with people moving around, and the library itself, mwah. At GNLU, I was very fortunate to have an excellent library collection. I’m not extolling praise for no reason. We had pretty much every book I needed across my five years, particularly in niche subject-areas, but I think the downfall of the library was in it’s organizational structure (or lack thereof). Books here are so neatly compartmentalized, it was super easy to navigate around despite it being my first visit. The librarians are incredibly friendly, and so knowledgeable, I’m actually headed back tomorrow to get some recommendations from them. There’s also so much access online here. Despite these resources, I hope never to become someone supporting the paywall – I hope to continue fighting for open-access.
My morning pretty much went there. I cycled back past the University Library and the bookshops and came back home resolving to spend the day reorganizing and studying. I achieved the first – moving the position of some shelves to make the books I borrowed more easily accessible to me from the table, and I managed to set up some stuff I had put off for a while (my music and Kannada stuff largely). The second has been a real uphill climb.
I spent a while tweaking the system I developed yesterday and unlocking OneNote’s true potential (what an insane tool it is), and then I slowly waded my way through two articles, before realizing I’d done just two, but it was 11pm. I really need to get my mojo back – not in the least because at this pace I’ll be weeks behind my reading before classes kick off. The other downside is that I won’t have the time to do reading I enjoy outside of Law, so its best to get into a rhythm quick. Tonight and tomorrow, I say. I’ve made myself a big mug of tea to keep me company too. Very in-theme.
Slowly and steadily, my Outlook inbox is being flooded with e-mails from the different things I signed myself up for during the Fresher’s Fair. I’m glad I haven’t paid for any memberships as yet, because I don’t think I’d be able to do justice to more than a couple judging by the term cards and mailing lists, but I need to figure out which ones I’m most keen about and sign up to them in the next week or two so I can enjoy them to the fullest. I’ve already had to apologize to Eton Fives for not being able to make their taster session owing to clashing commitments.
Such is life, and life is such. It’s nice to be a busy bee after six months of self-imposed busyness.